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Book Review: Churches, Revolutions, and Empires 1789-1914

Are you looking for some light reading? Want a nice, fluffy easy book that won’t tax your brain too much?

Look elsewhere.

Want to dig into the interactions of churches, revolutions, and empires? Do you think that type of material would interesting? Then welcome to my world—and you’re on to the right book for that: Churches, Revolutions, and Empires: 1789-1914 by Ian Shaw.

Cover->Churches, Revolutions & Empires : 1789-1914 by Ian J. Shaw (Cover links to book page.)

A few of quick notes before we go any farther: 1. I have the Kindle Edition of the book; 2. I got it free from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for the review; 3. I am not a galactic expert in all forms of history and as such, may have missed errors amongst some of Shaw’s details.

On to the review: history is tough, I think, to write. There is a great deal of detail and it is not uncommon to see authors who have so buried themselves in the historical period that they have lost the ability to connect to a modern reader. Fortunately, Shaw has not fallen into that abyss.

What he presents here is a look at events, beginning with the French Revolution and concluding with the world on the eve of World War One, and how theological developments in Christianity both shaped and were shaped by those events. The American Revolution is introduced as a background material, as it definitely showed a collision of all of these forces.

In all, the style is easy to follow. One definitely needs a background of some historical knowledge to follow the movement of material. Certainly I am in favor of the broader understanding of history, so this does not draw away from the text. Just note that if your understanding of history involves hitting CTRL-H while in Internet Explorer, you might need to grab an overview text before you dig in here. Or at least have one handy.

I could definitely tell that my Kindle version has a few typos, but I am not certain if those were not corrected before the book went to press. There is also, in the closing chapter, some summaries of activities in the 20th century that should have either been more in-depth or left out. Since the book states a focus on 1789-1914, many of these could have waited until a full treatment in a volume 2.

Also, while there is some look at areas beyond the bounds of Western Christianity, in all the book focuses on this portion of the world. The print edition does run past 500 pages, so something had to go. The Boxer Rebellion is discussed as well as various other world missions points—but typically in context of interactions with the Western World.

I liked this book. The revolutions were not all military ones: Shaw addresses science and technology, long referred to as “revolutions,” and how those impacted theology. He also points out some of the run-up to Darwin and demonstrates how Darwin was simply the next in a line of scientists exploring where they thought the science went.

This is a good one, but an advanced one. Not for the light reader.

Note: Free book from publisher in exchange for the review.


  1. Doug,

    Thanks for being a part of the Churches, Revolutions and Empires book review blog tour. It's a hefty book, but I'm glad to know it's worth the read. I'll be working my way through it soon. Looking forward to working with you on future blog tours.

    Shaun Tabatt
    Cross Focused Reviews


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